Picture being in EA Canada’s shoes at the start of the year with this task sitting on your lap: “We need you to take the franchise that’s produced arguably the best sports game for the last three years, including last year’s winner of 12 sports game of the year awards in NHL 09, and make it better.” That’s a heck of a task. Fans of the series will be pleased to know that the improvements from NHL 09 to NHL 10 are at least as good as those from NHL 08 to 09, and that sure is saying something!
The new battling-on-the-boards feature has added yet another degree of authenticity to the NHL series’ game play. Players now
become pinned up against the boards, as is so commonly seen in the NHL. Another new feature that the series has been sorely lacking is intimidation tactics, appropriately coupled with an all-new fighting engine.
A hard forecheck can completely demoralise opposition players, battering and bruising the opponent into playing a more submissive game. This can now be countered with the new intimidation, fighting and post-whistle tussles. If opponents are going particularly hard on a star player or a team just needs a spark, players can rough up their opponents,
which can lead to fights, now in first person thanks to the new fighting engine. The fights, while slightly gimmicky, are a significant improvement on last year’s effort and feel like a short scrap based upon EA Sports’ Fight Night Round 4 controls.
Two brand new modes have been added. First up is Battle for the Cup. Here players can skip the 82-game season and first three rounds of the playoffs and get straight to business, playing for the cup. In an up to best-of-seven-game series, players fight it out for Lord Stanley’s Cup, featuring superb presentation and series story lines. This mode combines all of the best elements of NHL 10 into one small, venerable package.
EA has also added Be-a-GM (General Manager), which in reality is a completely overhauled and redesigned Dynasty Mode. GMs are in charge of everything from scouting prospects for the upcoming draft, assigning training schedules and juggling lines, to making trades, signing players and of course, keeping the franchise owners happy. Don’t make the end goals and you’ll be out of a job, hoping to get picked up by a new team. Be-a-GM improves on Dynasty Mode in every possible way and could easily be an entire game in itself.
The EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL) was introduced last year as the world’s first sporting MMORPG. At the time of review, the leagues hadn’t quite kicked off, but as expected, the gameplay that was available ran smooth and lag-free. Finding match-ups was not difficult, with a steady number of opponents from all over the world just waiting to be challenged in the lobbies.
As fans of the series have come to expect, NHL 10’s presentation is immaculate once again. The commentary by Garry Thorne and Bill Clement is superb. Visually, NHL 10 is stunning; players look fantastic and lifelike (especially marquee players). The new animations are very noticeable, particularly for goaltenders, where
EA has added an additional 250 animations. The modelling and behaviour of the crowds is also a welcome improvement, creating an atmosphere and significantly raising the intensity levels in tight games.
The bottom line: This is a sports game, but not like one you’ve ever seen before. Without a doubt this will scoop ‘sports game of the year’ honours, and it’s a serious contender for overall game of the year. Any gamer who has a passing interest in sports is doing themselves a serious disservice in not picking up this true gem from EA Sports.